People need to understand why we are who we are:
An ethnographic study of homeless women in Brisbane
seminar presented by Dr Helena Menih, UNE
12 pm Thursday 28 April 2016
Paul Barratt Lecture Theatre, Psychology Building, UNE
Recent statistical information suggests that the numbers of homeless women in Australia are growing. Little is known about the experiences of, and the meanings attached to, homelessness for women. While there has been an increase in the research undertaken in the field of homelessness in recent years, these examinations tend to be ‘gender-blind’. This thesis, through the analysis of ethnographic data, explores the role of gender and space in the lives of homeless women in Brisbane, Australia. The research upon which the thesis is based involved over ten months of intensive fieldwork on the streets of Brisbane. The findings point to the importance of understanding the multifaceted nature of female homelessness. The stories illustrate the influence of the women’s identity and their relationships on being a woman during their homelessness. By not being passive and finding a sense of self, these women managed their bodies and identities with a range of adopted strategies to cope with life on the street. The stories presented in this thesis establish that the lives of homeless women tend to be complex, individualistic and need to be understood in a holistic way. Based on the women’s accounts, this thesis suggests the importance of understanding the gender and space relationship in the development of effective interventions and policies. Overall, this thesis provides an important theoretical contribution to the limited understanding of women’s experiences of homelessness.
Dr Helena Menih is an anthropologist and criminologist and as such, is well versed in qualitative research techniques (both ethnography and interviewing) and has considerable experience applying them to the study of vulnerable populations; her Doctorate, which is based on ethnographic research on homeless women. This study involved face-to-face interviews with homeless women who may have been subject to physical, psychological and sexual abuse; this required a high level of sensitivity and skill in approach. Consequently this thesis explores the implementation of intervention and/or prevention mechanisms for women ‘at risk’. In addition, her work focuses on the ‘risks’ that women experience in public space, or in states of homelessness, and their home. In this instance, for homeless women, these risks represent risks unique to their physical body and their identity.